to play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out

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You might have noticed that this has been a quieter month as far as receiving blog posts from me goes, obviously I was in Wellington for two weeks at the start of September, but – immediately upon arriving back on the bucolic scene with my parents, my laptop started having fainting spells and gasping urgently for its smelling salts with all the purposeful hysteria of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Considering I’ve had this laptop since 2011, considering I’ve dropped it from a great height onto concrete, considering I don’t think I’ve turned it off manually once in nine years, I feel it had a good innings – but even in light of this noble service it was nevertheless an enormous financial and emotional (because of the financial) outlay getting a new one. I was in fact quite petulantly distressed because I’d just for the first time in absolute years managed to get together a semblance of a savings account and was planning to do things with that money and now instead I had to make a large quantity of it disappear and start from scratch again. I know it’s like, literally how life goes that you have to spend money on stuff you wish was free and then you die, but does this mean I can’t be grumpy about it?

In an unprecedented fit of maturity, once I’d acknowledged and held space for that petulance, I decided to reframe the situation in a positive way. My laptop is my livelihood so there’s no question of not getting a new one. It just is what it is. And furthermore, it’s great that when something goes wrong I have the means to fix it myself! This time last year I would not have been able to afford a new laptop, I would’ve had to resort to writing these blog posts in my own blood on a wall and then inviting you all one by one to read it while I solemnly ate a biscuit in the corner, saying “this is a statement…about my bank statement” or something, and tried to remain conscious. Instead, here I proudly am with a new laptop that weighs as much as a tic tac, ready to write until its keys are worn away to a smooth nub. I mean they’re already pretty smooth due to the ergonomic design but…you know what I mean.

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Cooking when my parents aren’t home means an opportunity to put a lot of chilli in everything – not that I actually have an enormous tolerance for heat, but my tastes are exponentially more spicy than my parents, many of you out there can handle exponentially more than me, and so on. I made the African Peanut Stew from Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats – I’d been thinking about it since I first got this cookbook. It’s a recipe from Sierra Leone and a favourite of Rachel’s mother, whose father is from there, and Rachel made this vegan version for her. Sometimes when you’re anticipating making a recipe you end up accidentally over-hyping it, but this one exceeded all internal excitement from the tastebuds of my brain’s imagination.

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Rachel Ama’s African Peanut Stew

A recipe from her book Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats.

Paste

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red Scotch Bonnet, deseeded
  • pinch salt

For the stew

  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used orange kumara)
  • 1 x 400g tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 fresh red Scotch bonnet chilli, whole but deseeded (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock)
  • 125g natural peanut butter
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Coriander, chopped spring onions, extra chilli, to serve

Note: my local supermarket is not terribly well appointed; in place of black-eyed peas I used canned black beans, in place of fenugreek I used a teaspoon of curry powder, since it contains fenugreek and overlaps with some of the other spices, and in place of the chillis I just used plenty of chilli sauce.

First, place all the paste ingredients in a good processor and blitz into a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Spatula all of the paste mixture into the pan and stir it over a medium heat for about ten minutes. It should looks a little thickened and caramelised.

Add the sweet potato, canned peas or beans, the extra chilli if using, and the tomato puree and stir it all together. Then pour in the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and peanut butter, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine it all thoroughly. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. I found that it spluttered quite a bit over the high heat and one of those mesh guard lids was ideal for letting it cook away but without bubbling over.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt in the stew’s heat. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and any extra seasoning you think it needs, and sprinkle over coriander and sliced spring onions and chillis. As you can see from the photos I only used coriander, you can of course suit yourself.

Rachel recommends serving the stew with a salad, or with slaw and plantains, I had it just on its own and it was perfect but I absolutely co-sign her suggestions.

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This stew is so delicious, it’s substantial and rich with rambunctious flavour from the spices and chilli and ginger but also this mellow, sweet earthy creaminess from the peanut butter, and fresh sprightliness from the coriander and lemon. It’s so easy to make – all in one pan – though there is a food processor to clean – and fast, but it tastes like you’ve spent days slowly creating it. Naturally, it tastes even better the next day, in fact I ate some cold with a teaspoon while standing in front of the open fridge just now (you know when you kind of zone out and then come to in front of an open fridge with a mouth full of food?) and it still tastes incredible in that state. If you don’t have the spices already there is definitely a bit of shopping involved, and it uses a lot of peanut butter, but once you’ve got all those things stashed in your pantry this is a fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive way to make an enormous hearty meal that feels – and tastes – like a feast.

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If you’d hitherto been on the fence there has now literally never been a better time to directly support me and my writing through my Patreon; joining allows you access to exclusive monthly content written just for you including the archives of what I’d been writing before you joined up, being responsible for me being responsible for myself, could there be a more responsible choice than that?

title from: Cornet Man by Barbra Streisand from the Funny Girl stage musical (the number was rudely cut from the film adaptation.) There was an Idina Menzel version that she did at a live show that was removed from YouTube but which I listened to so many times I can still hear it in full in my mind, but Barbra’s original is wonderful, a real showcase of her showstopping voice in its prime, with all her best quirks – a conversational self-deprecating tone, her incredible growl on “can’t take the place of a horn,” her silky vowels stretching like melted mozzarella and her effortless belting.

music lately:

Some Things Last A Long Time, by Daniel Johnston. RIP ‚̧

Let Me Be Him, by Hot Chip. Do you remember in the 90s when you heard Tell Me When by Human League for the first time on the radio and you were like “wow,” well this soaring and lush song has similar exhilarating energy but without the nineties production that to our discerning current-day ears now sounds a bit like music from an educational video game for children. Also if you hated Human League in the 90s that is also valid and you should still listen to Let Me Be Him. I myself have no real feelings towards Human League and didn’t even know that Tell Me When was by them until like a year ago when I googled it after remembering that I really enjoyed listening to it on the radio in my cousins’ car literally one time because they lived in Auckland and could actually get radio reception and that is the true 90s experience!

We Care A Lot by Faith No More, the earlier Chuck Mosley version – Mike Patton is good but Mosley’s sludgy congested vocals go straight to my veins and I love that messy guitar riff and surly drum beat, this is just such a fantastic song, somehow hostile and rude yet welcomingly dance-able at the same time.

Next time: I also have all the ingredients recipe to make Rachel Ama’s Jerk Mushrooms and Caramelised Onions, you might well be seeing them here.

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